Month: March 2012

Religious Freedom in Anglo-America Began on a Day in March

If you have visited Colonial Williamsburg or Jamestown, Virginia, but have never been to St. Mary’s County, Maryland, it is worth the beautiful drive to Colton’s Point on the Potomac River to retrace a lesser-known chapter in America’s founding. A Maryland Historical Society sign on the shore near the St. Clement’s Island Museum marks the landing of The Ark and The Dove on March 25, 1634, adding, “Here, on the same day, Father Andrew White, S.J. celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the British-American colonies.”

That simple event, a Catholic Mass, inaugurated religious freedom in British North America.

From Colton’s Point you can follow the peninsula southeast to Historic St. Mary’s City, not far from the mouth of the Potomac. A National Historic Landmark, the founding site and first capital of 17th century colonial Maryland has been excavated and recreated with a museum, interpretive exhibits, and reenactors in costume. Historic St. Mary’s City celebrates the bold experiment in freedom that was early colonial Maryland. Several colonies in New England were havens for religious minorities fleeing persecution in England, but Maryland was the first to free the faith of its citizens from government control by not establishing a state church for sixty years.* Catholics and Protestants founded the colony together.

The practice of Catholicism was illegal in England in the late 16th and 17th centuries. English Catholics were subject to ruinous fines, imprisonment, and in many cases death for holding to their faith as it was practiced before the reign of Elizabeth I. To be a Catholic priest was, in itself, considered a treasonable crime punishable by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Facing the inability to practice their faith openly, some Catholics sought to emigrate and create a new life in North America.

The religious history of early Maryland was complex. Interreligious coexistence was difficult and largely without precedent in the colonies. Respecting each other’s rights to practice their faith openly, to serve in government, and to be free of coercive taxation for the benefit of an established church required constant vigilance.

The Toleration Act passed by the colonial assembly in 1649 guaranteed that no Christian should “be any ways troubled molested or discountenanced for…his or her religion, nor in the free exercise thereof…nor any way compelled to the belief or exercise of any other Religion against his or her consent.” A midcentury coup attempted to repeal the Toleration Act, but the principle of religious freedom survived until 1692, when the Church of England was established in Maryland as in the mother country.

Despite this setback, Maryland’s experience of six decades helped pave the way for Americans to recognize that freedom of religion was a right inherent in the people that should be protected from abridgement by law. When the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited Congress from establishing a religion “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the Founders prevented the kinds of political conflicts and abuses of conscience with which their ancestors had struggled for hundreds of years and upheld human dignity.

We do not have freedom in America today because it is―or ever was―simply convenient legally or culturally, but because Americans believed that persons are not subservient to the government. Rather, government is established to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens. Government derives its powers solely from the people, each of whom possesses inherent personal dignity. The Founders restricted the federal government’s powers, not to protect government from the beliefs and values of the citizens, but―knowing history―to protect citizens from the tendency of government to expand its powers at the expense of personal freedom. Respect for the sacred space of the human heart is the guardian of liberty. The legacy of that Mass on St. Clement’s Island in March 1634 is that a small group of English colonists sought to respect that space, and one day a new country succeeded.

 

*The website of St. Mary’s County describes how unusual the founding of Maryland was:

“Religious toleration became the official policy of the Maryland colony, as did recognition of the Native Americans as a separate people with inherent rights. This was extraordinary for the time, as views in the other colonies and the mother country were sharply different. These two progressive pieces of 17th-century policy foreshadowed the provisions of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing separation of church and state and subsequent laws enacted to protect civil rights.”

Read Blog Detail

The Portland Plan―More Portlandia Than Policy

Last week a document called the Portland Plan was released by the Portland Office of Sustainability. The Plan lays out dozens of “community goals.” One of them is to increase the use of public transit from 12 percent of daily commute trips to 25 percent by the year 2035.

Another one calls on Portlanders to increase bicycle commuting from 5 percent to 25 percent of all trips.

Both of these goals are silly. Transit use has been stuck at 11-12 percent of all commuting since 2000, despite more than $5 billion in expenditures by TriMet. Transit commuting is not going to double in the next two decades, at any price.

The share of bicycle commuting peaked at 8 percent of all commuting in 2008 and has since dropped to 5 percent. There is no chance that bicycle use will quintuple by 2035 because it is simply too impractical.

These fantasy goals are being promoted to justify starving the road system, because local politicians think we all drive too much. But it’s none of their business how much we drive; they should be providing the roads we are paying for with our gas taxes.

The Portland Plan would be a good comedy sketch for the cable TV show “Portlandia”, but it is not ready for prime time as a public policy document.

Read Blog Detail

Obamacare: Pain or Prescription for College Students’ Ailing Futures?

By Rebecca Phillips

Have you ever heard of someone waiting 18 months to get an MRI?

It’s a frequent scenario in Canada, a country that is noticeably free in most respects. The exception is health care, which is controlled by the government.

But waiting 18 months for an MRI rarely happens in the United States. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say it’s never happened in the United States…yet. This week, a crucial event is taking place whose outcome very well could be the difference between waiting 18 months or 18 minutes for an MRI. The United States Supreme Court has begun to hear the long-awaited arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.” The Court is expected to rule in June.

It may be easy for college students to support Obamacare based on the idea that free health coverage for those who currently can’t afford it is a good thing or even a “right.” But according to John R. Graham, Director of Healthcare Studies at Pacific Research Institute, there’s poison in that prescription.

“A ‘right’ to healthcare is a positive freedom,” Graham said, “meaning that people (doctors, nurses, etc.) must give things to you for free. That requires government enforcement.”

In other words, the federal government takes control of your access to health care. It may sound harmless at first, but there is real-world evidence to suggest otherwise. Graham highlighted Canada, where the government has controlled access to health care for the past 40 years. The goal was to grant equal access to health care. The reality is equal denial. There is a lack of access to health care resources across the board. Patients have extreme difficulty seeing a specialist or even a primary care physician. OB/GYNs hardly exist. And receiving tests or treatments often takes exorbitant amounts of time.

Under Obamacare, these inefficiencies will become a very real threat to our own access to health care. “Obamacare is not an equilibrium,” explained Graham. “Government will need – and want – more control. It would eventually become a single-payer system.”

In college, with tests and parties and internships occupying your time, it can be difficult to envision the impact Obamacare would have on your immediate and long-term future. But college students, of all demographics, should be among the most concerned. Obamacare places a huge financial burden on businesses through taxes tying up funds that otherwise could be used to hire or to invest. If you think it’s difficult to find a job now, it will be significantly more difficult under Obamacare’s full implementation. Free health care sounds nice right now, but will it retain its luster when so many students have degrees and student loans but no job because businesses can’t afford to hire?

Ironically, one only has to look at the medical field for evidence. As Graham pointed out, these medical industries already suffer from heavy taxes – so much so that layoffs are gaining prevalence in medical professions from clinicians to research scientists. Students looking to enter the medical field will face an even bleaker job market under Obamacare.

There’s also your own health to consider. Forty or fifty years from now, you likely will need more substantial medical care than you have needed in your teens and twenties. Will you want to face the same time and resource constraints that accompany government-controlled access to health care? Even 10 years from now, you may hesitate to start a family because specialized prenatal and OB/GYN care isn’t as readily available.

A “right” to health care may sound like a good idea, but what about the government having a “right” to tell you what you do or do not have access to – whether that’s medical care, a job, or a family? It has been said that a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have. Obamacare may force providers to expand their coverage on paper, but no one can promise you will get the treatment you need or the services you want – just look at Canada.

In the real economy, there is no such thing as “free” – it’s paid for by someone or not provided at all. When we cede individual control of our health care decisions to the government, the government decides who pays for what care, how much they will pay, who will get benefits, and when they will get treatment. When you are waiting 18 months for an MRI, the cost of “free” will be awfully high.


Rebecca Phillips is Student Freedom Project Coordinator at the Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington. She is a recent graduate of Berry College, Georgia, and a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

Read Blog Detail

John Charles talks about the Portland Plan on The Victoria Taft Show

Hear Cascade’s President John Charles discuss his thoughts on the Portland Plan with Nelson on The Victoria Taft Show.

Read Blog Detail

The War on the Working Class

By Randal O’Toole

The Occupy Wall Street movement has focused attention on a supposed divide between the one percent and the 99 percent. But a much more serious class struggle divides America: that between the middle class, meaning college-educated people whose jobs require a lot of thinking, and the working class, meaning less-educated people whose jobs tend to be more physical or repetitive.

Americans often pretend this class divide does not exist, yet there are clear differences in tastes in music, food, and entertainment. The politics are very different: Tea Partiers tend to be working class; Occupy Wall Streeters tend to be middle class. Despite pretentions of tolerance, few members of the middle class have any real understanding or appreciation of what it means to be working class, and they often treat working-class tastes and preferences with sneering contempt and hostility.

One of the more visible manifestations of this hostility is the War on Sprawl. This is a middle-class war, fought by college graduates who themselves usually live in single-family homes and drive for most of their travel. Yet, they are convinced that only people with their refined tastes can appreciate suburban living, and only people with their special skills need to drive―most everyone else should live in apartments and take mass transit.

Intentionally or not, the War on Sprawl is a war on the working class. To curb sprawl, planners use urban-growth boundaries and other limits on suburban development, making housing unaffordable for working-class families. To reduce driving, planners deliberately increase traffic congestion, limit parking, and put other restrictions on driving. This hits working-class commuters, whose jobs are less amenable to flex time, telecommuting, or relocation to suburban offices, the hardest.

This battle goes back to the nineteenth century when America’s fast-growing industrial cities housed both classes. Surprisingly, working-class homeownership rates were then far higher than middle-class rates. Working-class families viewed homes as potential sources of income, taking in boarders, growing small livestock in their yards, and starting in-home businesses; and they worked hard to own their homes.

By contrast, middle-class families treated homes as merely a place to live, and the vast majority of them rented. A major disincentive to buying a home was the worry that a working-class family might move in next-door, bringing down the value of neighboring homes with their boarders, livestock, and home businesses.

That changed in the early 20th century as cities adopted zoning codes that often banned non-family residents, backyard livestock, in-home businesses, and other features found in working-class homes. Middle-class homeownership soared.

After World War II, a combination of unions, immigration controls, and —most importantly—improved worker productivity increased average working-class incomes to nearly 75 percent of average middle-class incomes. By the 1960s, working-class families often lived in the same neighborhoods, drove on the same streets, and shopped at the same stores as middle-class families.

Yet differences in tastes and preferences remained. Large pick-ups and, later, truck-based SUVs were more likely to belong to working-class families. Volvos and, later, Priuses were more likely to belong to middle-class families. “It is a great mistake to equate an income which permits most of the basic amenities of what the middle class calls ‘decency’ with becoming middle class,” observed sociologist Bennett Berger in 1960.

When “even a semiskilled factory worker” can “own two cars, a Ranch house, a TV set, and clothe his wife in excellent copies of Paris fashions,” Berger presciently noted, “higher-status groups (perhaps without considerably greater income) defend the potential threat posed by widespread material abundance to their ‘status-honor’ by designating such economic possessions ‘vulgar’ and asserting the indispensability of a particular style of life—that is, something that cannot be immediately purchased with no down payment.” By declaring a War on Sprawl, the middle class sought to exclude working-class families from pretentions of middle-class amenities.

The much-feared environmental costs of sprawl are in fact negligible: The suburbs are no threat to America’s vast farms, forests, and open spaces, and thanks to pollution controls the environmental impacts of cars are rapidly falling. The real question is not whether we sprawl but who gets the benefits of single-family homeownership and automobility.

The War on Sprawl aims to prevent many people from enjoying these benefits. Those who prefer higher densities and mass transit are free to locate in urban centers where such housing is concentrated. But understanding the sociological roots of the War on Sprawl provides just one more reason to end it.


Randal O’Toole (rot@cato.org) is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership, which Cato will publish this May. He is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

Read Blog Detail

K-12 Funding Levels Surprise Washington Voters

A February survey of Washington voters by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice indicates that voters there are much less likely to favor increased spending on K-12 education once they know how much money their state already spends.

Almost one-fifth (19%) of survey participants correctly identified their state’s per-student funding level: According to the survey, Washington spent $9,688 per student in 2008-9. About half (46%) thought the state spent $8,000 or less.

The survey asked if Washingtonians thought public school funding is too low. One subgroup was asked if they thought funding was too low before being told what the actual level was. Of those people, 56% said that public school funding is “too low.” But the other subgroup was told what Washington spends before being asked their opinion of the funding level. Of respondents who knew that Washington already spends about $10,000 per child, only 42% thought Washington’s education spending was “too low” – effectively a 25% reduction.

More than half of Washingtonians surveyed (52%) think K-12 education in their state is on the “wrong track.” Only 31% think it’s going in the “right direction.” But when Washington voters know how much money their state already spends per child, they are far less likely to think the problem with K-12 education is funding than when they don’t know. Policymakers, politicians, and education lobbyists should take care when blaming problems in K-12 education on funding. When voters know the truth, they aren’t convinced the problem is money.

Read Blog Detail

Victoria Taft interviews John Charles about urban renewal zones in Portland

Cascade’s President and CEO, John Charles, tells Victoria Taft why he thinks it’s time to “euthanize” urban renewal zones in Portland.

Read Blog Detail

Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony Before the Joint Committee on Legislative Oversight on Columbia River Crossing

Testimony of John A. Charles, Jr.

President, Cascade Policy Institute

Before the Joint Committee on Legislative Oversight on Columbia River Crossing

 Regarding the Proposed Light Rail Extension to Vancouver

March 15, 2012

The CRC is fundamentally a light rail project. Therefore the first task for the Oversight Committee should be to rigorously assess the purpose and need for light rail. Specifically, what transportation service will light rail provide, and how does that service compare with express bus service currently offered by CTRAN?

It is important that the comparisons be made on a side-by-side basis, not system-wide.  The reason is that the cost-effectiveness of TriMet’s light rail system varies considerably by line. The Yellow line is the least productive MAX line in the entire system[1], averaging only 127 boarding rides/vehicle-hour. In contrast, the most productive line (Blue) averages 166 rides/vehicle-hour.

A summary of key metrics clearly shows that light rail compares poorly:

 

CRC Light Rail vs. CTRAN Express Bus

 

MAX Yellow Line

CTRAN I-5 Express buses

Peak-hour travel time*

36 minutes

16 minutes

Total capital cost, 2012-2020**

$856-$944 million

$4-$8 million

% of operations cost covered by fares***

47%

67%

 

 

*Derived from the FEIS and CTRAN published schedules.

**Various CRC finance documents; author’s estimates for CTRAN.

***Personal communication with finance staff of the respective agencies, 3/14/12.

Travel Speed: The only reason to add new transit service is to make bi-state travelers better off. Light rail would make them worse off, by lengthening commute times by 125%. The attached paper by transit consultant Thomas Rubin provides a more detailed analysis. This is a fatal flaw that cannot be overcome, because MAX is an all-local system, and it is competing with Express Bus service.

Cost: At roughly $300 million/mile, this would be the most expensive transit project in Oregon history. For comparison, the Milwaukie LR project is estimated to cost $211 million/mile while the Emerald Express BRT project in Eugene-Springfield cost $6 million/mile.

Light rail proponents have long argued that the high capital costs of rail are offset by savings in operations cost, but that is based on systemwide averages.  Actual numbers for CTRAN I-5 Express Buses and the Yellow MAX line suggest that there will be no operating cost savings for light rail.  CTRAN recovers 67% of bus operating costs from passenger fares, while the Yellow MAX line collects only 47%.

Conclusion: Vancouver light rail would serve no public purpose and would have extremely low ridership. The Legislative Oversight Committee should euthanize it as soon as possible.



[1] TriMet FY 2012 Transit Investment Plan, P. 103

Read Blog Detail

Federal Health Care Reform: A Two-Year Report Card

By Roger Stark, MD, FACS

Major health care reform (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) became law two years ago. The legislation passed with only Democratic votes and totaled a massive 2,700 pages. The Medicare and Medicaid programs, by contrast, were enacted in 1965 with broad support from both parties and totaled only 137 pages. Although the 2010 PPACA will not be fully implemented until 2018, we know much more about it today than was apparent two years ago.

The American public continues to view the law unfavorably. The weekly Rasmussen poll consistently shows a firm majority of Americans, 52 to 60 percent, favor repeal. A recent poll by the Kaiser Foundation reveals 51 percent of the public views the law unfavorably. The CNN polling organization found that 59 percent of Americans oppose the law and only 39 percent support it.

Before passage, Americans were told the law would decrease health care costs for the country. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the original cost of the legislation would be less than $1 trillion and would reduce the deficit by $100 billion in the first ten years. These numbers were based on the government collecting ten years of taxes and providing only six years of benefits. CBO officials now believe the first ten years will cost Americans at least $1.5 trillion and will add another $700 billion to the deficit.

The chief Medicare actuary, Richard Foster, estimates PPACA will increase overall health care spending from 17 percent of the economy to 21 percent by 2020. Foster also calculates that insurance premiums will increase by $2,100 per year on average because of PPACA. One of the architects of the law, Jonathan Gruber (an M.I.T. economist), recently stated that the law will “dramatically increase” insurance premiums.

The second ten years of the law, from 2020 to 2029, will be even worse. There will then be ten years of taxes collected to pay for a full ten years of benefits. There will be no four-year revenue buffer by then. Cost estimates for the second and subsequent ten-year periods run as high as $2.5 to $3 trillion and will add untold billions to the national deficit. So much for holding the cost of health care down.

The President told Americans we could keep our present health insurance if we liked it. A recent national survey, however, found that 50 percent of small business employers and 30 percent of large employers will definitely drop or would consider dropping employee health benefits. The CBO now estimates that at least 14 million Americans will lose their employer-provided health insurance under PPACA.

Proponents of the PPACA guaranteed the law would cover health insurance for every American. Estimates now predict that at least 20 million people will remain uninsured.

To date, the federal government has provided over 1,200 waivers, or customized repeals, to businesses, labor unions and other organizations, allowing them to opt out of part or all of the PPACA. Yet the law forces states to add 16 to 23 million more people to the budget-breaking Medicaid program.

Proponents of the law point out that millions of young adults under 26 years old have been added to their parents’ health insurance plans. Of course, the impact on improving the nation’s health is minimal. These young people for the most part don’t require health care.

Proponents also argue that small businesses now have access to tax credits for employee health insurance. Because of very specific requirements and a huge regulatory burden, only five percent of eligible employers have actually used these credits.

In reality employers face a very uncertain future. In a recent Gallup Poll, nearly 85 percent of small business employers are not hiring now because of fears about regulations and the cost of health benefits required in the new law.

The PPACA has become increasingly unpopular since it passed two years ago. Experience with the law and concerns about the future make this growing unpopularity warranted.

Read Blog Detail

Federal Health Care Reform: A Two-Year Report Card

Major health care reform (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) became law two years ago. The legislation passed with only Democratic votes and totaled a massive 2,700 pages. The Medicare and Medicaid programs, by contrast, were enacted in 1965 with broad support from both parties and totaled only 137 pages. Although the 2010 PPACA will not be fully implemented until 2018, we know much more about it today than was apparent two years ago.

The American public continues to view the law unfavorably. The weekly Rasmussen poll consistently shows a firm majority of Americans, 52 to 60 percent, favor repeal. A recent poll by the Kaiser Foundation reveals 51 percent of the public views the law unfavorably. The CNN polling organization found that 59 percent of Americans oppose the law and only 39 percent support it.

Before passage, Americans were told the law would decrease health care costs for the country. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the original cost of the legislation would be less than $1 trillion and would reduce the deficit by $100 billion in the first ten years. These numbers were based on the government collecting ten years of taxes and providing only six years of benefits. CBO officials now believe the first ten years will cost Americans at least $1.5 trillion and will add another $700 billion to the deficit.

The chief Medicare actuary, Richard Foster, estimates PPACA will increase overall health care spending from 17 percent of the economy to 21 percent by 2020. Foster also calculates that insurance premiums will increase by $2,100 per year on average because of PPACA. One of the architects of the law, Jonathan Gruber (an M.I.T. economist), recently stated that the law will “dramatically increase” insurance premiums.

 

The second ten years of the law, from 2020 to 2029, will be even worse. There will then be ten years of taxes collected to pay for a full ten years of benefits. There will be no four-year revenue buffer by then. Cost estimates for the second and subsequent ten-year periods run as high as $2.5 to $3 trillion and will add untold billions to the national deficit. So much for holding the cost of health care down.

The President told Americans we could keep our present health insurance if we liked it. A recent national survey, however, found that 50 percent of small business employers and 30 percent of large employers will definitely drop or would consider dropping employee health benefits. The CBO now estimates that at least 14 million Americans will lose their employer-provided health insurance under PPACA.

Proponents of the PPACA guaranteed the law would cover health insurance for every American. Estimates now predict that at least 20 million people will remain uninsured.

To date, the federal government has provided over 1,200 waivers, or customized repeals, to businesses, labor unions and other organizations, allowing them to opt out of part or all of the PPACA. Yet the law forces states to add 16 to 23 million more people to the budget-breaking Medicaid program.

Proponents of the law point out that millions of young adults under 26 years old have been added to their parents’ health insurance plans. Of course, the impact of improving the nation’s health is minimal. These young people for the most part don’t require health care.

Proponents also argue that small businesses now have access to tax credits for employee health insurance. Because of very specific requirements and a huge regulatory burden, only five percent of eligible employers have actually used these credits.

In reality employers face a very uncertain future. In a recent Gallup Poll, nearly 85 percent of small business employers are not hiring now because of fears about regulations and the cost of health benefits required in the new law.

The PPACA has become increasingly unpopular since it passed two years ago. Experience with the law and concerns about the future make this growing unpopularity warranted.

Read Blog Detail